What’s in hand?

October 13, 2010 at 6:54 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on What’s in hand?

As a child, I loved salted licorice. I frequently pestered my mother to get me some (although I don’t recall how well I succeeded – or failed). When I was around five years old, she gave me some coins and pointed me at the store.

“Go in there and buy it yourself,” she said.

“I don’t beg,” I countered, and refused to enter the store to engage the clerk in a perfectly normal transaction.

Ok, I was pretty young… But at certain times I come back to that traumatic (for me) event (I didn’t get the licorice). Whatever my mother said to me to convince me to enter the store didn’t help.

Now, decades later: I still love salted licorice; I still have some money (for now, anyway); …and it seems I’m still confused about what’s in my hand (about what it is I have to offer).


Glycyrrhiza glabra


Do green and make green

October 11, 2010 at 10:45 pm | In architecture, green, housing, land_use, real_estate, vancouver, victoria | 1 Comment

There are times, I think, when having a tumblr (vs a blog) would be cool – then it would be enough just to post, free-standing, the smack-down that Peter Busby (“one of Canada’s leaders in green architecture”) gives Bob Rennie (“the influential Vancouver condo marketer who is the last say for many developers on what will sell”).

In this conversation recorded by Frances Bula, Busby and Rennie have just started talking about Victoria BC’s Dockside Green:

Mr. Busby: It [Dockside Green] did not make money because it was priced competitively against non-green product. Dockside was competing against buildings that weren’t trying to do anything in terms of green, so [the developer] didn’t get much of a premium in the marketplace for his green features. And that came out of his profit. And that’s why the project’s dead right now. And that’s why we have to have improved building codes. They must pay for a better envelope. Everything else is greenwash. If you don’t make a better building that performs better, you’re just putting green fuzz on buildings. (source)

I’m not heartened by reading Busby’s assessment of Dockside Green (that it’s “dead”), but he is so right to talk frankly to the marketer. I’ve been to developer luncheons – where there actually were developers who did real green projects – and their marketers (whom I spoke to as well) couldn’t get the facts, or push them into the marketplace. And I have no doubt that by the same token there are plenty of developers who continue to convince the moneybags and the marketers that it’s not possible to do green and make green.

I’d like to start something in the space between their arguments – work on retrofitting existing housing, for example. So much work needs doing there.

In case that Globe and Mail article link goes dead, here’s one to CTV News, which carries the same interview/ text.

n.b.: I do appreciate Bob Rennie’s last (literally) word:

Mr. Rennie: I’ll be there. But we can’t just tell the consumer to pay more. This has to work for them and, if it doesn’t, they aren’t going to buy it. They’ll move somewhere else, out of Vancouver. And, in the end, that’s what we have to look at, not just what rich people in the city are willing to pay for.

He gets it from the marketing p.o.v.: it’s no good if what you’re doing drives people away. Getting more people into your city is actually a good thing (something that too many people in Victoria absolutely do NOT get, sadly).

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

October 10, 2010 at 2:30 am | In links | 3 Comments
  • Loved this insight into “back to school” by Sam Ladner:
    Why is the father in the Staples ad so happy? Because his children are reminded that they do not occupy a privileged state in today’s culture. Dad likely works for a company. He likely lives on the earn/spend treadmill. He likely controls few things about his working life. Come September, his children’s summer bubble is over. Just like him, they must consume and plan. Just like him, they must conform to a role set by others. Just like him, they must go “back to school.”

    tags: copernicus_consulting sam_ladner socialtheory

  • I like this post by Sam Ladner. I find that the points she makes mesh nicely with the critiques lobbed at The Social Network (the movie), and the inability of Sorkin’s take to understand the social transformations that have taken place (and the many more that will take place) via social media platforms.
    He [Gladwell] makes the classic mistake of arguing that a particular technology may (or may not) lead to a particular result. In the real, messy, social world, X technology is not guaranteed to lead to Y results. Nor is X technology guaranteed NOT to lead to Y results. Gladwell commits the same sin as those of social media pundits he so blithely condemns. Namely, Gladwell is a technological determinist with a poor grasp of actual social interaction.

    Sociologists, by contrast, recognize the social world is complex and full of exceptions. Their contribution to the phenomena of social change is far more nuanced than Gladwell suggets.

    tags: malcolm_gladwell sam_ladner socialmedia socialjustice socialcritique social_capital facebook

  • Article about Sean Parker (who is portrayed in Aaron Sorkin’s film, The Social Network, as a jerk):
    …Parker, a svelte, wavy-maned clotheshorse, is a uniquely quirky figure in the annals of 21st-century business. At age 30, he is already worth close to a billion dollars, thanks mostly to the cache of Facebook stock he still owns. An autodidact who barely finished high school, he is nonetheless almost painfully cerebral. A sickly child whose asthma sometimes landed him in the hospital, he devoured books from a very young age; his father, a U.S.-government oceanographer, began teaching him programming at age seven. There is hardly a topic—literary, political, medical, or technological—about which he cannot offer an informed and nuanced opinion in his rapid-fire patter. (Don’t get him started on Ben Franklin’s role as a media pioneer.)

    Most of all, he turns his knowledge and instincts toward Internet business strategy as a way, he says, of “re-architecting society. It’s technology, not business or government, that’s the real driving force behind large-scale societal shifts.” Indeed, Parker has such a superb track record for predicting where technology is headed (and which type of product and service will appeal to consumers) that companies often invite him to invest simply to tap his brain. “Few people are as smart as he is,” says Facebook’s Zuckerberg, aged 26, who still consults quite frequently with his former partner.

    tags: facebook innovation web2.0 mark_zuckerberg internet aaron_sorkin sean_parker vanity_fair hollywood

  • Larry Lessig nails it in this brilliant review of Aaron Sorkin’s film, The Social Network. Read the whole article, especially the 2nd part where Lessig (a lawyer/ professor of law) spells out how the legal establishment is completely missing the point.
    Zuckerberg faced no such barrier [of entry into a market, as the makers of Nantucket Nectars did]. For less than $1,000, he could get his idea onto the Internet. He needed no permission from the network provider. He needed no clearance from Harvard to offer it to Harvard students. Neither with Yale, or Princeton, or Stanford. Nor with every other community he invited in. Because the platform of the Internet is open and free, or in the language of the day, because it is a “neutral network,” a billion Mark Zuckerbergs have the opportunity to invent for the platform. And though there are crucial partners who are essential to bring the product to market, the cost of proving viability on this platform has dropped dramatically. You don’t even have to possess Zuckerberg’s technical genius to develop your own idea for the Internet today. Websites across the developing world deliver high quality coding to complement the very best ideas from anywhere. This is a platform that has made democratic innovation possible—and it was on the Facebook platform resting on that Internet platform that another Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, organized the most important digital movement for Obama, and that the film’s petty villain, Sean Parker, organized Causes, one of the most important tools to support nonprofit social missions.

    The tragedy—small in the scale of things, no doubt—of this film is that practically everyone watching it will miss this point. Practically everyone walking out will think they understand genius on the Internet. But almost none will have seen the real genius here. And that is tragedy because just at the moment when we celebrate the product of these two wonders—Zuckerberg and the Internet—working together, policymakers are conspiring ferociously with old

    tags: facebook innovation larry_lessig law copyright internet web2.0 tnr mark_zuckerberg aaron_sorkin sean_parker

  • Provocative, interesting talk by Johanna Blakley on copyright (absence thereof) in the fashion industry, and what that might mean for IP reform in other fields.
    Copyright law’s grip on film, music and software barely touches the fashion industry … and fashion benefits in both innovation and sales, says Johanna Blakley. At TEDxUSC 2010, she talks about what all creative industries can learn from fashion’s free culture.

    tags: copyright johanna_blakley ted_conference video fashion innovation

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Dialing down

October 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm | In just_so | 3 Comments

Not sure what’s in the air, but I feel an immense quietude settling around me: everyone seems either muted or not saying anything I’m hearing, and I feel the same way about my own voice. (Is anyone reading this? Listening? I doubt it… I feel entirely erased somehow. And island-bound.)

I could write a diatribe about how I have no affection for Canada’s celebrating Thanksgiving on Columbus Day (really, who ever heard of a good Monday holiday? and whoever decided that the sheer genius of the real 4-day late November Thanksgiving celebration could be trumped by this early bird?), but I won’t bother.

The weather hints at months of low, impenetrable skies and rain, my eyes feel watery, and I’m reading science fiction just for the hell of it. From nineteen-sixty-two, to boot (The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick). Gruesome. Funny, but gruesome. Click through to the book’s wikipedia page for original cover & illustrations – I won’t repost these because they have symbols (swastikas) I dislike.

I’ll be back when I once again feel like talking to myself, wings (and ears) picking up.

Mute swan flapping its wings (Portrait of the blogger as a bird)

Development and asynchronicity

October 7, 2010 at 10:23 am | In ideas, just_so | 2 Comments

The other day, we had an interesting conversation around the dinner table about development and asynchronicity.

Asynchronicity is a familiar idea around here, because, as homeschoolers of asynchronous kids, we learned a decade ago (and had to address the fact) that development happens on several levels and usually not in lockstep. The intellectual, physical, and emotional development of the asynchronous child is never as nicely meshed as the child-rearing and pedagogical literature would have you believe.

It struck us, at dinner two nights ago, that the same could be said of countries or any other organized system of knowledge, information, or development. But when we think of countries, we tend to judge them according to some “synchronous” view of where they should be at. Maybe that’s not so smart.

Why, for example, should countries without a developed road or rail infrastructure work toward developing an automotive or rail infrastructure? Why not use horses? That was the “crazy” idea that sparked our thinking over dinner. My first thought was, “Horses? You must be kidding.” But as we explored the idea (and substitute asses or camels for horses, as the case may be), it made more sense. Just because civil engineering brought mega-projects like interstate highway systems to some countries, does that mean we have to assume that all countries need the same civil engineering feats to develop and prosper? Could asynchronous development help regions or countries leapfrog over some of those developments? It’s possible to have a modern extended network of cell phone communication  alongside an “old-fashioned” technology of transport by animals.

Asynchronicity is something that educators of gifted kids understand, and it’s also used to describe types of information exchanges that have arisen from internet-based information exchange. Asynchronous messaging is:

Fire-and-forget information exchange. Participants in an asynchronous messaging system don’t have to wait for a response from the recipient, because they can rely on the messaging infrastructure to ensure delivery. This is a vital ingredient in loosely coupled systems such as web services, because it allows participants to communicate reliably even if one of the parties is temporarily offline, busy, or unobtainable. Asynchronous messaging systems are also vastly more scalable than those that rely on direct connections, such as remote procedure calls (RPCs). [emphasis added] (source)

I like thinking about these aspects in juxtaposition. Synchronous development is great when it works, but harmful if it’s an expectation that becomes a straitjacket. Having seen first-hand how liberating the acceptance and embrace of asynchronous development is for developing children, I’m intrigued by how favoring asynchronicity on a larger scale could liberate creative and developmental energies in other systems (like countries).

As it happens, I came across Blackboards Everywhere: Atemporality And The Idea Of The Future yesterday, which referred to an Oct. 5 piece by Russell Davies, something something something. The beef? According to Davies’s post, we’re failing to imagine the future. Instead, we’re focused on retro or stuck in the present, with no clear vision of what the future should look like:

I sometimes think all this talk of atemporality is an abdication of sci-fi responsibility. SF writers seem very keen to deny that they’re writing about the future. They’re not doing prediction, they’re telling us about the now. OK. Well. Pack it in and get on with some prediction.

Anyway. It’s not just sci-fi. I’m also depressed about the lack of future in fashion. Every hep shop seems to be full of tweeds and leather and carefully authentic bits of restrained artisinal fashion. I think most of Shoreditch would be wondering around in a leather apron if it could. With pipe and beard and rickets. Every new coffee shop and organic foodery seems to be the same. Wood, brushed metal, bits of knackered toys on shelves. And blackboards. Everywhere there’s blackboards. (source)

Well, maybe we’re going through the throes of rethinking synchronous development. It has to be easier to imagine the future if there’s a blueprint (synchronous development) that lets some sort of whole Gestalt emerge, right? And if that slowly wears away – in favor of bits of asynchronicity emerging successfully (or not) – it gets harder to predict the future. Maybe that explains why we’re more easily enthralled by retro visions (and I think Steampunk actually gets some things right, although on the whole I’m not a fan of it, and I don’t get it at all when it becomes some kind of fetish).

Added bonus, since Davies mentions fashion: Watch this fascinating TEDx talk by Johanna Blakley, Lessons from fashion’s free culture, wherein Blakley explains how “copyright law’s grip on film, music and software barely touches the fashion industry … and fashion benefits in both innovation and sales,” and “what all creative industries can learn from fashion’s free culture.” Looks like fashion is a sort of “loosely coupled system.” Something to keep an eye on.

Retail realities

October 6, 2010 at 11:28 am | In ideas, innovation, victoria | Comments Off on Retail realities

Yesterday’s post about ordering New Glasses online prompted Robert Randall to comment with some questions and thoughts about the future of retail.

My first response was to point out that I posed those very questions way back in December 2006 in my article, Consuming Downtown. This is hardly a new problem, and if local retailers haven’t woken up to the dangers that online retail poses, they must be dreaming.

Looking at my New Glasses conundrum: I’m not in a position to pay the bricks-and-mortar surcharge on stylish-looking glasses at this time, and if an online retailer can provide the service and the product at a considerably cheaper price, I’ll take my business there. However, if a bricks-and-mortar retailer offered the right shopping experience, maybe I’d dig deeper and pay the surcharge after all.

So what can a bricks-and-mortar store do to draw in customers?

Perhaps Victoria is a “special” case with plenty of people who still shop traditionally, because I don’t get the impression that traditional outlets here are hurting. Yet. But if a retailer were to continue doing business the old way, then starts to hurt, and then complains about the new ways muscling in on his/ her business (as Robert’s friend seemed to have done with regard to LensCrafters) – if that happens you have to wonder what the retailer was thinking.

It’s really not an either / or thing (either bricks-and-mortar or online).

If a bricks-and-mortar eye-wear store wanted to draw me into its store, it would first have to make sure that it has an absolutely Wow!gorgeous online presence. Glasses are items I might shop for only every couple of years, which means I’m not comfortable just “popping in” to the store to look around. A specialized store where I’m likely to shell out a few hundred dollars only every few years is a bit like a commercial art gallery: there’s a lot of threshold resistance because I don’t want to encounter over-eager or overly-snobby sales people, and I don’t want to be reminded that I can’t afford this or that, and that my choices are therefore limited to really generic looking crap. In my case, this means I’ll want to do my initial browsing online, to see if this store and I could possibly be sympatico. It should then be a bonus that, living in the same city, I can actually walk into the store to examine the goods up-close.

If the store wants to hold my attention, it should avoid offering everything. I despise most eyewear stores because they sell too much stuff that would never look good on me. I need instead to know that if I go in there, I’ll find something I can like. It’s a waste of my time to go from store to store looking at 15 gazillion variations of the same “vanilla” frames (the “mall” experience), all of which don’t speak to what I want to express. If you’re going to offer 15 gazillion types of frames, put them online, for god’s sake, but don’t “display” them in your store (use your online site for that).

Instead, concentrate your in-store displays to highlight specific looks, with a seasonal focus on collections and on what’s hot as an overall look: eyewear is fashion, forget about selling it as science or some impossibly rarefied, hard-to-produce item. With today’s optical labs, lens quality just shouldn’t be something the consumer is supposed to worry about. Top quality should be the standard, a given. And if it’s not given, you’ll hear about it because I’ll be bringing it back for a refund.

Let’s take a look at a local bricks-and-mortar store that succeeds as an online retailer, too, because of the way it has managed to carve out a very specific niche: Baggins Shoes on lower Johnson Street in Victoria, BC. Baggins (established as a store in 1969) bills itself as having the world’s largest selection of Converse shoes, which (along with Vans, Heelys, and Dinosoles Shoes) it sells online as well as in its – yes – bricks-and-mortar store. Baggins sells a lot, but it drills down into depth, with an exclusive focus on a certain kind of shoe. Luckily for Baggins, those shoes come in 15 gazillion variations, which means they never sell vanilla, but instead sell specialized flavors of a particular “hip” brand. Baggins leverages social media, too (their blog is dead, but check out their Facebook page, Youtube, and Twitter streams), …and yet its physical retail experience is treasured by many. See, for example, Elizabeth McClung’s blog post on her buying experience at Baggins, Crisp Lesbian Lolita Gothic: or “How my clothes control people.” (Bonus: click through for a photo of Elizabeth’s sales person, holding a pair of Rosie the Riveter sneakers.)

If I ever buy a pair of Converse shoes, you can bet I’ll buy them at Baggins. And if I ever saw as zingy a blog post about an optical / eyewear shop as McClung’s post about buying sneakers at Baggins, I’d take my business there. Especially if they had a good website where I could shop virtually first, trying glasses on virtually and seeing the price before I commit.

New glasses

October 5, 2010 at 10:30 am | In just_so | 5 Comments

I’ve been putting off a visit to my ophthalmologist for several years. I realize that’s not a good strategy at my age, but there are other bills to pay, and this one was “ignorable.” But now it happened: I broke my glasses over the weekend and need a new pair.

So I’m going to try something new: I’ll be ordering my new glasses (after this afternoon’s eye exam) online. I figure if people can buy shoes online, they can buy glasses this way, too. Or suits.

I’ve already had a chance to have a twitter-based conversation with the folks at Clearly Contacts (who, despite their name, also offer glasses – including sunglasses; they also have great tutorials for measuring what will fit, and a virtual mirror that lets you try glasses on).

Incidentally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to British Columbia-based companies, specifically from the University of Victoria‘s Business School: Clearly Contacts was co-founded by UVic grad Michaela Tokarski while Indochino was conceived by Kyle Vucko, both University of Victoria Business School grads. …And that happens to be my son’s faculty (he’s a 3rd year BCom student), so I’m expecting great things from him, too! 🙂

Wake-up calls and the seduction of the snooze button

October 4, 2010 at 10:45 am | In creativity, housekeeping, ideas, writing | 5 Comments

Last week, while attending a professional / academic conference in Toronto, Vancouver-based academic and “social media power userRaul Pacheco-Vega posted a blog entry called The future of my personal blog. He noted:

I am in awe of the depth of knowledge and caliber of colleagues I am sitting with, and I am honored to be sharing the floor with so many passionate and great specialists in water. It’s also a very strong wake-up call for me, as an academic whose career is, despite my relative success, still in development. I am well-established in some topics I’ve done work on, but in others I am still learning. (source)

Raul was wondering about the future of his personal blog: it’s where he focuses much more on “social” and far less on “academic,” and increasingly it’s also the public profile he’s most closely associated with. Does he have to choose between the two (social “vs” academic) – and if yes, what does that choice look like for a multi-faceted/multi-talented person? If no, how does he avoid letting some part of him atrophy?

I’m at another point in the spectrum – I don’t want to say “at another end,” since that implies a binary structure: it strikes me that it’s precisely the absence of simple binaries that makes these choices (or traps) difficult if not seemingly impossible to resolve. But I can relate to what Raul struggled with in that entry. Read optimistically, I suppose that in some ways, he could well be at the forefront of forging a new type of career – a hybrid “creative” trajectory that defies traditional placement.

I’m quite a bit older and have a very different personal history than Raul. Married with children (who are now both at university), I torpedoed my academic career in 2000 when I chose to homeschool my kids (which meant giving up the luxury – pardon the sarcasm – of the adjunct professor career: I did not have tenure and wasn’t in a tenure-track position, and I also wasn’t in a position to move around the country, chasing a series of 2- to 3-year appointments). In that process (of placing the perceived needs of my children over my own for a career) I also hitched my economic well-being to my spouse’s success. In hindsight, I can’t say I would recommend this to anyone. Now it’s 2010 and two years have passed since we stopped homeschooling, and I’m still trying to find terra firma – without success, to date. That the economy melted down in the interim hasn’t helped, but that’s a whole ‘nother story…

A while back I had a meeting with Elisa Yon, a talented young architect I met here in Victoria, but who is now in Vancouver continuing her graduate studies in design at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Elisa talked about how invigorating it was to be back amongst high-caliber people who are working hard in a field she believes in. It was more than slightly depressing for me, because it made me realize that I have none of that in my life here. I no longer have “the children” to homeschool, but living on an island in a provincial capital often enough seems like living in the suburbs – or in Lake Wobegon. Victoria tends to hype self-congratulation to the point where it emulates (unironically, alas!) Garrison Keillor’s mordant portrait of a self-satisfied place “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” (source) As they might say on Star Wars, “It’s a trap!”

I hope Raul figures out how to square his particular circle. Every time I feel like I’m getting close, something happens to make the solution slip away again: I currently have no idea how to inject my serious side (my “academic” interests, my desire to study patterns – and to recognize them – or my wish to have meaningful conversations with people who care about the same things I do) into what I do here. Perhaps it is a question of making a new type of career, that hybrid “creative” thing outside traditional expectations.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

October 3, 2010 at 2:31 am | In links | 1 Comment

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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